With the release this week of attorney Sue Gamm's report of investigation into the Darien special education department comes 11 detailed recommendations.
"As a result, as my full report documents, the multitude of procedural and practice changes negatively impacted students and their services; parents experienced needless frustration and anxiety as they sought to address the changes; and staff members were caught between complying with their superiors' expectations and following what they believed to be federal and state requirements," Gamm wrote in her 161-page report.
The recommendations outlined in her report offer suggestions to "support an effective and efficient administration and operation of services for students with disabilities in the Darien Public Schools."
On March 20, a group of parents filed a complaint with the state Department of Education claiming that the Darien Public Schools violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by removing the "team aspect" of the Planning and Placement Team meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined. At a later meeting with state representatives, allegations were made that Individual Education Plans were changed after PPTs and services were not being provided. Those allegations were found by the state to be true.
Many of the recommendations are in line with the action plan that John Verre, the special education ombudsman, presented to the Board of Education Dec. 10.
Like Verre, Gamm recommends that standard operating procedure modules, referred to as SOPM, be established for all of special education, including Scientific Research Based Initiatives and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs that receive federal funding.
"When developing the SOPM, consider hiring a consultant with the knowledge, expertise, and time available to support the completion of an expeditious draft," Gamm wrote in the report. "Make the process collaborative by involving DPS staff and others in the community with areas of expertise who can contribute relevant information."
Gamm recommends using a web-based application so that the operation module can be easily updated and provides links to other pages with relevant information, and to then include the link to the module website on the Darien schools website so it is accessible to the public.
She also recommends that guidelines be established for PPT meetings and the development of IEPs. Gamm suggests using draft IEPs that can be worked through and collaboratively changed with the parents of the special education children during the PPTs. Part of her recommendations include the need to establish better timing when notifying parents about regarding meetings and their children's paraprofessionals. Additionally, procedures for effectively correcting IEPs should be put into place.
During Verre's Dec. 10 presentation, the conversation turned to the implementation of the Universal Design for Learning, which is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn, according to its website. Gamm also recommends the use of UDL and enhancing in-school options for children who are currently out-placed.
Verre and Gamm also suggest identifying the children that were impacted by the unlawful special education practices in the past year. As of Dec. 10, 50 students' cases were being investigated, according to Verre.
One of Gamm's final recommendations is to establish a policy so that if parents feel the need to complain about non-compliance within the district, there is an effective means to doing so.
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